Stephen Hawking answers an interviewer's question in a recent Guardian article, where he compares heaven to a “fairy story” for “people afraid of the dark.” ...
You had a health scare and spent time in hospital in 2009. What, if anything, do you fear about death?
"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
Kevin Staley-Joyce in First Things gives a succinct and, I think, accurate response:
It’s the usual critique of religion-as-wish-fulfillment, coupled with Hawking’s philosophical materialism. But, as usual, the usual arguments are well and ready for a response. Those acquainted with Ivan Karamazov will recall his apparent belief that if there is no God, anything is permitted. One can hardly imagine a scheme for wish-fulfillment as comprehensive as that made possible by atheism. And second, if heaven is merely a fairy story peddled to believers to console them from fears and earthly suffering, why, we should ask, does the Christian tradition place so much emphasis on the possibility of hell?